How to write a cover letter

Why is a cover letter important, and what should you say in yours? Make the right impression with our tips and examples.

Skip to: 

What is a cover letter and why is it important?

A cover letter is a letter that you write about yourself and submit alongside your CV when applying for a job. Within it, you explain why you’re the right candidate for that role, based on your experience and skills. 

A potential employer might use a cover letter as an introduction to you before moving on to your CV, so it’s important to make a strong impression.

Just like you would tailor your CV to the specific role you’re applying for, you should write a cover letter with a particular job in mind. The concise structure of a CV can make it hard to stand out. But the structure of a cover letter gives you more room to showcase your skills and personality. 

When do you need a cover letter?

A job application will tell you whether you need to include a cover letter or not. Most applications do ask you to, or some may get you to fill out some online questions instead. You probably won’t need a cover letter for a part-time job as a student, for example.

If a job description doesn’t say anything about a cover letter, play it safe and include one just in case. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate your skills and show you’ve gone the extra mile.

How should you structure your cover letter?

A cover letter should be roughly one side of A4 and broken up into short paragraphs so it’s easy to read. Just like your CV, stick to a sensible font type, size, and colour.

Ideally, you should submit it as a PDF version with a clear filename, so it always looks the same regardless of the device it’s opened on.

What should go in your cover letter?

  1. Contact details

    You should include the same contact information at the top of your cover letter as you would for your CV, in case it gets separated.

    Like a letter, the following should be at the top of the page (right aligned):
    • full name
    • phone number
    • email address
  2. Who to address your cover letter to

    Ideally, you want to address your cover letter to the specific person who will be reading it. The job listing should say who this is. This might someone who works in HR or the person you will report to if you get the job.

    If the job listing doesn’t clarify who this is, don’t be afraid to get in touch directly by phone or email. This shows initiative and is an early opportunity to make a personal connection, which can work in your favour.

    If you’re struggling to find an individual to address your cover letter to, you should write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’ instead.

  3. Clarify the role you're applying to

    Begin by stating the role you are applying for. Sometimes it can be useful to say how you heard about the role, whether it was on a particular website or through someone you know..

    For example:

    I am writing to apply for the Data Analyst position in your organisation, as advertised on your website.

    Now you’ve clarified the role you’re applying for; you can highlight why you’re the right candidate for it.

  4. Describe yourself and your experience

    Next, say who you are – easy, right? You don’t need to tack on any bells and whistles.

    If you’re a school or college student applying for a part-time job, say where you go to school, what year you’re in, and what you’re studying. You may want to drop in your future plans (if you have any).

    For example

    I’m in my second year of my A-levels at St John’s College, studying English, biology, and drama. I've received a conditional offer from the University of Sussex to study English and drama in September.

    If you’re a graduate applying for your first job out of uni – say where you’ve graduated from, your qualification and grade.

    For example

    I’m a graduate of the University of Sussex with a first class bachelor’s degree in English and Drama.

    If you've taken a gap year, include what you did and how this has made you a stronger candidate for the role.

    For example

    I’ve spent the last six months volunteering in Ethiopia, leading a missionary programme – a role that’s been personally fulfilling, and has equipped me with a range of skills that I’m excited to bring to a role like this, including motivating a team and problem-solving.

    If you’re currently working and applying for another job, outline the field you’ve been working in, including some of your key responsibilities.

    For example

    I’ve been working in digital marketing for a charity for the past three years. My main responsibilities are email marketing, social media management, and content creation.

    By highlighting a few of the areas you’ve been involved with, you may be kept in mind for another role if you're unsuccessful here.

  5. Why you’re looking for a new role

    You will want to touch on why you’re applying to this role, especially if you’re currently employed. Below are some tips about tailoring this to the role you're applying to.

    • Do you want to move into a new field? Perhaps one that you’ve had a taste of and really enjoyed? 
    • Do you want to do the same role, but in a different sector, such as moving from a commercial business to a charity? 
    • Are you looking for more responsibility which you can’t get in your current role to progress on to a long-term goal? 
    • Have your personal circumstances changed? An example would be relocating to be closer to family.
  6. Demonstrate your key achievements

    Now it’s time to show what you’ve done or achieved up to now, and how this makes you the perfect fit for the role in question (including any standout achievements or stats to back this up).

    Don’t forget to relate these to the key skills or knowledge that have been set out in the job description and use the extra space to elaborate on these. Don’t just repeat your CV word for word.

    • If you’re a school/college student applying for a part-time job or a degree apprenticeship, what have you achieved in your studies that demonstrates these key skills?
    • Have you won any awards or come top in your year in your exams – this would show your work ethic. Have you headed up any clubs or societies where you’ve had to be organised, or lead by example?
    • Are you involved in any societies or sports teams where you’ve worked closely with and motivated others?
    • Have you completed any volunteering or internships?

    For example

    As editor of the university newspaper, I was responsible for overseeing the production of over 40 issues, including sourcing exciting new contributors and managing strict budgets. In that time, the paper won several awards for its investigation into X.

    If you’re currently working and applying for another job, you’ll have already mentioned the general areas you have experience in, but now it’s time to highlight the impact you’ve made.

    For example

    After just a few months of completing the company’s graduate scheme, I was promoted to the role of account manager for several clients across different sectors, involving planning, implementing, and reporting on all their paid display activity. While it was challenging, I’ve continued to meet key targets. My ability to manage clients’ expectations satisfactorily was pulled out as a key strength in a recent client review survey.

    You might want to back this up with key statistics:

    For example

    One client has seen sign-ups climb 31% in a year since I’ve led on their account, resulting in a 5% growth in annual revenue.

    Or being part of a project that's been big news in your field.

    For example

    I was part of the team that worked on Project X, which received critical acclaim within the X industry. I was specifically responsible for overseeing X, Y, and Z in this project. This wonderful experience early in my career was capped off by winning an X award for Y.

  7. Why that company/organisation/field?

    This is your opportunity to show you’ve taken some initiative, done your research, and are passionate about getting this role especially. You want to prove this isn’t just another application you’ve churned out. Is there something about this role that makes it stand out from similar roles elsewhere?

    For example

    The chance to apply my skills and collaborate with Dr Jane Smith and her team is one I couldn’t let slip. Also, the opportunities to grow in this organisation through X, Y, and Z fill me with confidence.

    Is the organisation entering a particularly significant period that you’re keen to be a part of (and most importantly, that you feel you can contribute to in a big way)?

    For example

    The organisation’s expansion into South America is something I would be thrilled to be a part of. My sixth-month stint in Mexico delivering the X project gave me a whole new perspective on this market but was all too short. Returning to the continent with the experience I now have would be a fresh, exciting challenge.

    Is the role or organisation involved in something you’re personally invested in?

    For example

    A family member’s recent experience with X has given me a whole new appreciation of the work Y do. I have been volunteering for Z for the past six months, something that has been a great source of fulfilment. To contribute further in a professional capacity would be all the more rewarding, while I believe my distinctive perspective would benefit the work I do and the organisation as a result.

    This is where it may help to mention any ambitions or goals you have for the future, although be careful not to take your eye off the role you’re applying for.

  8. Conclusion: reiterate with impact

    Finish up with a short, punchy conclusion reiterating some of the key aspects you’ve outlined above.

    Do this in a way that will make an employer excited to meet you for an interview (or at least get across your enthusiasm to meet them and learn more about the role).

    If you’ve addressed your cover letter to a specific individual, sign off with ‘Yours sincerely.' If you don’t know the name of the recipient, stick to ‘Yours faithfully.'